AUSTIN — Texas Deputy Solicitor General Matthew Frederick on Feb. 6 defended the Electoral College system in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Frederick, arguing on behalf of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, maintained that Texas’ method of appointing presidential electors is consistent with the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in Congress.”

As most other states do, Texas appoints presidential electors on a winner-takes-all basis to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in a statewide election.

The case, brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several individual plaintiffs, challenges the constitutionality of Texas’ system, asserting that the voting power of minorities is diluted under winner-takes-all in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the 1st and 14th Amendments.

Study: Teens, seat belts

In 2018, 111 of the 264 teens killed in vehicle crashes in Texas were not wearing a seat belt, the Texas Department of Transportation reported on Feb. 4.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of deaths among teenagers. One simple click could help change that, TxDOT says in its current “Teen Click It or Ticket” campaign.

“For teens, getting a driver’s license is a rite of passage, but when they start driving, they aren’t thinking about how their lack of experience places them at greater risk of getting in a crash,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “Tragedy can strike in an instant, which is why we hope all parents, teachers and other influencers are urging teens to buckle up each and every time, no matter how short the trip may be.”

Hegar reports revenue

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Feb. 4 said state sales tax revenue totaled $3.08 billion in January, 8.9% more than reported in January 2019.

Growth in state sales tax revenue was led by receipts from the retail trade and information services sectors, while receipts from oil and gas mining were down from a year ago, Hegar said. In addition, January retail trade sector collections were higher than a year ago in part because more Christmas shopping days fell in December. Collections also were slightly boosted by marketplace providers and remote sellers who first began collecting Texas sales taxes in October, Hegar added.

The majority of January sales tax revenue is based on sales made in December and remitted to the agency in January. Notably, total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in January 2020 was up 6.6% compared to the same period a year ago.

Sales tax is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 57% of all tax collections.

USDA OKs hemp plan

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Jan. 27 welcomed news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved the Lone Star State’s plan for the production and regulation of hemp.

Miller referred to hemp growing as "an exciting new crop opportunity.” However, he cautioned would-be growers, saying, "It is still not legal to grow hemp – so don’t put those seeds in the ground just yet. We’ve got to get our rules approved and get our licensing program up and running, but the dominoes are dropping pretty quick. We’re almost there.”

House Bill 1325, passed by the Texas Legislature last May, created a legal path for Texas to open itself to commercial hemp farming. The state submitted its hemp plan to the USDA for approval on Dec. 2. Now, with USDA approval, Texas must follow its administrative rule-making process, which includes public notice and public hearings, before farmers can plant hemp.

Abbott declares disaster

Gov. Abbott on Jan. 31 declared a state of disaster due to drought conditions in 22 counties.

Those counties include: Anderson, Bell, Blanco, Burleson, Burnet, Cherokee, Dimmit, Freestone, Henderson, Jackson, Karnes, Kinney, Llano, Maverick, Navarro, Real, Smith, Uvalde, Val Verde, Williamson, Zapata and Zavala.

In the declaration, Abbott authorizes the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster.